General Dwight Eisenhower, Supreme Commander of the Allied Forces, lead a coalition of troops in one of the greatest gambles of military history. In a twenty-four hour period, June 6, 1944, the air forces had flown 10,500 sorties, 23,000 airborne troops had been dropped into Normandy at night, and 132,715 British, American, and Canadian troops crawled ashore during the day.
Hitler’s much-touted Atlantic Wall had been breached.
In many ways, Eisenhower had been an unlikely choice for supreme commander of the largest military force ever amassed in the history of civilization. Growing up poor in Kansas and Texas, Eisenhower had been able to get an appointment at West Point, where he was well-liked but not a star student—in a class of 164, he was 61st in academics and 125th in discipline. By 1940, an obscure lieutenant colonel at Fort Lewis, he had been in the Army twenty-eight years without seeing combat.
In order to prevail against the Nazi regime, this untested American would have to forge a smooth military force from several nations, all with different traditions and different objectives, and he must build a leadership team comprised of such eccentric and exasperating leaders as Winston Churchill, George Patton, Charles de Gaulle, and George Montgomery. (Even Churchill once said of Montgomery, “He was magnificent in defeat and insufferable in victory.”) It was a small wonder, then, that when this untested American arrived in London, war-weary England was wary.
Although D Day, 1944, was a great gamble, Eisenhower prevailed. Why was he successful? Because, despite his modest record and the fact that some of his generals could spot him by ten or twenty IQ points, he had an unusual blend of talents. He knew how to construct a coalition, then even-handedly push, persuade, cajole, and mollify it various elements until it became a well-oiled machine.
Effective leaders understand how to tap into the great need everyone has to be a part of some group. We were not built to function well alone. We work best in teams.
The Harvard Business School says a team is a small number of people with complementary skills who are committed to a common purpose, performance goals, and approach for which they hold themselves mutually accountable.
All of my younger life I was a part of a team—baseball teams, basketball teams, football teams. In college I played on a tennis team. I was a part of a team that was highly diverse. Brought together from all over, with varying backgrounds, we molded into a team. It was such a blending of lives and such a memorable time in my life that I have a picture of this team in my office today. They serve as a constant reminder of the value and benefit of a team. Camaraderie occurred on that team that is unexplainable. I experienced it. We encouraged each other—“You’re going to make it!” We affirmed each other—“What a great shot!” We appreciated each other—“Thanks for giving that second effort!” We recognized each other—“Great job. Well done. Thanks for coming through in the clutch!” We chided each other—“Come on, you turkey, pick it up, keep your head in the match!” We corrected each other—“Here, let me show you. Watch me!” Together—we practiced, drilled, ran hills, road buses, lost a few, won a lot, and celebrated. We were a team so committed to each other that we continued to meet once a year for ten years after college and periodically after than. (In fact, that team was so special that the entire team was inducted into our college sports Hall of Fame earlier this year, a first for the school.)
I think about Billy Graham—the world famous evangelist. As one man he has done more for the cause of Christ in the modern era than anyone alive. Yet Mr. Graham has had a team including the likes of Cliff Barrows, Bev Shea, and Grady Wilson. They have been with him since the beginning of Mr. Graham’s ministry. I suspect he would say he could not have accomplished all that he has without this coterie of gifted and talented assistants.
No one works alone. We all work better in relationship with others. Teams recognize the value of the whole being greater than the individual parts. Team has been defined by the acrostic: Together Everyone Accomplishes More.
The Special Olympics features mentally and physically disabled athletes from around the world. One of the most memorable events that happened during the Special Olympics was a foot race among a group of people with Down syndrome. The runners were close together as they came around the track toward the finish line. One of them stumbled and fell. When that happened, the rest of the runners stopped. They went back as a group, helped the runner who’d fallen to stand up, and then they all ran across the finish line together. Once across, they hugged and congratulated each other for finishing the race.
I can think of no better picture of a team than that. If we are honest, we all need people around us, though handicapped, scarred, and dysfunctional, which help us stand up, link arms, and celebrate the finished race together.
Eisenhower experienced victory because of a team. My tennis teams experienced victory because we were a team. What could you accomplish if you were a part of a team?
Did you know that if we practiced love our relationships would be stronger, our jobs would be more meaningful, our ailments would be fewer? Earlier this year I wrote an encouraging book on love called Chapter 13: The Excellence of Love. The book gets its title from perhaps the greatest statement ever made on love by the Apostle Paul in 1 Corinthians 13. It provides a guide to love, if practiced will make us well and whole. Click here to claim your copy.